Thursday, November 3, 2016

Taqlid, ijtihad, "chaos on earth", flexibility and 'some sort of synthesis'

The redefinition of ijtihad as a lay rather than restricted practice has facilitated radical transformations in the ways Muslims define Islam's unifying ethical ideals. Communities of Muslims became bound by the search for a "true" Islam, and a set of hermeneutical tools for that search, but the hermeneutics of "true" Islam only produce multiple truths and multiple communities. I do not argue that this independence of thought and religious diversity is inherently dangerous, or that law must be as rigid as the nineteenth-century conservatives claimed it was in order to preserve social order. Indeed, the search for religious truth is part of human existence, and legal systems must be able to adapt to changing social circumstances. Although those who sought to preserve the unity of their community by restricting ijtihad predicted the contemporary upheaval in public belief, this "chaos on the earth," a return to taqlid would probably not provide the flexibility needed to maintain a legitimate legal system today. Some sort of synthesis of traditional sources and methodologies that restricts ijtihad and provision of fatwas to specialists, to encourage some measure of social consensus on the definition of the community, and its legal basis, is needed. Attempts so far to create such a synthesis have been given little popular attention. [68]
-Indira Falk Gesink, "'Chaos on the Earth': Subjective Truths versus Communal
Unity in Islamic Law and the Rise of Militant Islam," The American Historical Review, Vol. 108, Issue 3, pg. 15, paragraph 58.

I just read this article for the first time for a class on Islam that I am TA'ing for. I appreciated it for its scholarly historical and political analysis of some changes in the usage of terminology, especially by modernist thinkers like Afghani and 'Abduh, and how they viewed scholarly learning as well as the idea of how welcoming all sorts of lay interpretation as authoritative can possibly lead to "chaos on earth."